El Camino and Portus Cale (Portugal)!

July 7th (Saturday)

Our last morning in Gijon, so we took advantage of it and enjoyed a wonderful sleep in to late morning.  After packing up, giving a test run of Kitty’s new backpack, we grabbed a small breakfast and headed out from the city.  It was just over three hours to Santiago de Compostela, the end destination for anyone travelling the Camino de Santiago, or the “Way of Saint James“.  The city gained its importance by being the purported resting place of the remains of Saint James, and through the medieval ages was a major pilgrimage point for Christians all throughout Europe.  Having driven there, we were cheating slightly, but it was still an interesting stop along our route.

Photo of the side entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with fountain and a handful of people in the foreground
One of two entrances to the impressive Cathedral.

From where we parked we strolled through the nearby park, then went into the city and had a small lunch before touring the streets.  The city was huge, with very old architecture throughout, and of course filled with pilgrims of all stripes and colours.  Unfortunately, a side effect of being a well-known pilgrimage site is it also attracts all sorts of beggars and the grand majority of shops are hawking “souvenirs”.  This gets amplified the closer to draw to the actual Cathedral of Santiago of course, but the Cathedral was phenomenal to see in person.  The building towered over the courtyard near the entrance, and even with so many people coming and going, it didn’t feel crowded at all.

Photo of the front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in all its ornate glory
The front entrance to the Cathedral, with some refurbishment still ongoing.

After touring through the cathedral (no photos were allowed, sorry!), we walked into the Praza do Obrdadoiro — “Square of the Workshop” in Galacian — where we could view the front of the Cathedral, along with some of the government buildings that lined the plaza.  While impressed by the side entrance to the Cathedral, I must admit I was shocked at the intricacy and details of the front!  Absolutely blown away by the level of craftsmanship and the dedication that it must have taken to complete.  When we were done, we stopped for a bit of ice cream as we were roasting in the sun, then made our way back to the car to continue our journey.

Photo of an elaborate government building in the plaza
Government buildings as seen from the Praza do Obradoiro.

Our next destination was the city of Porto, in Portugal!  I learned later that the country derived its name from this city, originally known as “Portus Cale“, or “Port of Cale” after the Celtic goddess.  The Roman province around the city eventually became synonymous with the port, before eventually gaining its independence centuries later.  It also wasn’t until we reached our hostel and checked in that we realised that this was the city known for Port wine, as Kitty and I were treated to a small glass upon our arrival.  Shout out to Douro Surf Hostel, as it was a great place to stay, even if parking was a bit of a pain!

Photo of the sunset in Porto, taken from the riverbank with small boats in the foreground, and more of the city in the background
Walking along the riverfront at sunset. These are the moments you live for when you travel!

One thing I will definitely say: if you’re looking to travel through Portugal, and Porto in particular, avoid driving if you can!  I noticed almost the change in drivers almost immediately after crossing the border from Spain, and in the city you’re taking your life in your hands.  Portugal drivers are nuts!  Numerous times I saw cars straddling lanes like the lines were mere suggestions, or blowing around corners when they had no idea what was coming.  We made it in one piece to our hostel though, got settled in, and then wandered the riverbank as dusk fell.  The city was hopping, and the riverfront was especially lively and wonderfully lit as the sun gradually set.  We made it to the top of the hill near us to get a good vantage point and were treated to an absolutely beautiful view before making our way back to the hostel for the night.

Photo of the Porto river at night, with both side lit with lights from the various buildings
Even with the sun gone, the city was still well-lit for the evening!

July 8th (Sunday)

Kitty had some work to catch up on, so I went round to the supermarket in the morning, and spent the rest of the day catching up on writing and YouTube videos.  Once the evening rolled around, we left the hostel and headed to the highest point near us, called Jardim de Morro, or “Hill Garden”, where we were able to catch a great view of the river.  The area we were staying in was actually called Gaia, across the river from Porto proper, but was close enough that a quick jaunt across the bridge and we were exploring the city centre.  We wandered with the intent of finding the cathedral that our hostel host had mentioned the previous night, but without much luck.  Despite not finding that specific structure, we enjoyed the architecture of the city and stumbled across numerous other gems, including the Igreja do Carmo.

Igreja do Carmo
The tile facade of Igreja do Carmo.

This church was built in the second half of the 18th century, and had one of the walls covered in 1912 with a beautiful tile facade.  The scene is meant to depict the foundation of the order of Carmelites, who built and ran the church.  From there we walked past the Porto courthouse, and stumbled across a speciality chocolate shop.  They offered Port and chocolate tastings, so of course we had to stop for a while!  It was a full-on affair: we went for the three pair tasting, so we had a white, tawny, and ruby Port, each paired with a chocolate truffle and a post-chocolate enjoyment.  We took our time working through the courses, and left feeling quite glad we had stumbled across such a gem.  Unfortunately, we did neglect to note the name of the shop!  After some extensive digging and re-tracing our steps for that night, I figure it was Chocolataria Equador, but at possibly a new location (as it’s not listed on their site at the time of writing)!

Photo of three wine glasses, one empty, two with port wine, alongside a plate of chocolate truffles and various dried fruit.
With the white port and chocolate down, here’s a sample of what we got to enjoy for the tasting!

When finished, we headed back to the hostel for a proper dinner before bed, and that’s where I’ll leave off for today!  As per usual, there’s some additional photos below for your perusal, and be sure to hit the subscribe button in the sidebar or follow my twitter for future updates!

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